The following article is part of Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb’s Weekly Newsletter.
Earlier this week, Chavi and I concluded a most enjoyable and inspiring Yom Tov season. It included the beautiful davening on Rosh Hashanah at Yeshurun Synagogue; Yom Kippur at the Jerusalem Gardens Hotel, during which I lead a joint OU/Gateways program for four hundred participants; and Sukkos, during which I served as a scholar-in-residence for Gateways at that same hotel through Shabbos Chol Hamoed. The climax was Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, which we spent back in our apartment, davening at Yeshurun for the evening hakafosand at HaZvi Yisrael (popularly known as Chovevei because of its location on Rechov Chovevei Tzion). Details about these joyous days will follow later in this newsletter.
However, the entire period, especially during the past several days, was marred by unspeakable tragedy and general tension and unrest in Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular. I have no need to provide all of the details in this newsletter, because so much is reported regularly in the media. However, I must point out to you something that you should already know: the media reports are full of minor and major inaccuracies and often contain blatant distortions and outright falsehoods.
Closest to me personally were the murders last Thursday night and last Motza’ei Shabbos of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were shot and killed in front of their four children (many media reports spoke of six children, which is just a minor example of media inaccuracy); Aaron Bennet or Benita, the 22-year-old who was stabbed to death and whose wife, also stabbed, is struggling for her life, and whose infant child is recovering from gunshot wounds; and Rabbi Nechemia Lavi, shot and killed while rushing to rescue the Bennet family. Numerous other Jewish individuals were wounded, some quite severely, by rock throwing and stabbings.
One must be absolutely outraged by the responses of so-called world leaders to these tragic events. Without exception, these attacks were unprovoked attempts to murder innocent civilians, or police or soldiers who were trying to maintain peace and order. Most egregious was the statement by the UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who condemned the killing of Palestinians but failed to even mention the Jewish victims of terror. A friend of mine who monitors the Palestinian media read to me the Palestinian account of the stabbings of Bennett and Lavi. They were reported as acts of self-defense against the attack of a “mob of frenzied settlers.” The fact that a two-year-old was one of the members of that “mob” was ignored.
There is no sign that this wave of murderous hatred will soon abate. As the brother of the murdered Rabbi Henkin mentioned in his graveside eulogy, “It is not terror that we are facing. Terror is not the enemy. The enemy consists of human beings who are fanatically devoted to an ideology of hatred and for whom human lives, all human lives, but especially Jewish lives, are of no value.” The enemy is a religious ideology, and a very widespread ideology, which seeks to dominate the world through murderous evil. The world must recognize this and call it by its name. It is this enemy that must be fought, not abstract “terrorism.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that, with the exception of Israeli politicians—left and right—who insist upon taking political advantage of the situation by criticizing the government and each other, the Israeli public is reacting bravely and courageously. Examples of this include the commitment to celebrate the chagim to the fullest, despite the deep sadness and justifiable anger. The hakafos on leil Simchas Torah, on the very spot where the stabbings occurred the previous night, was attended by large throngs, dancing and singing songs of commitment to Torah and Tzion. Such simchas Yom Tov was displayed throughout the Holy Land. I personally had the privilege of attending hakafos leil Simchas Torah at the Yeshurun Synagogue, which is mymakom kavua, or “permanent” shul. The shul was filled wall-to-wall and included dozens of people who were quite apparently not regular attendees at such events. Chazzan Asher Heinovitz led the singing with an enthusiasm, which even surpassed his typical characteristic vitality. Walking home from Yeshurun, I passed the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, where even larger crowds were in attendance.
The highlight of Simchas Torah day for me was the davening and dancing (andkiddush) at the synagogue closest to our apartment, Chovevei. The President of Israel, Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin, frequently attends services at Chovevei. He was there on Yom Kippur and again early on Simchas Torah morning, accompanied by security personnel. He was honored with Chassan Torah. At the end of the Torah reading, he and the Chassan Bereshis and Maftir joined hands in a lively dance. I was invited by name and called up to join them in the dance—a most appreciated privilege. As I was ascending the bimah, several people shouted, “You will never have the opportunity to dance with the president of the USA, so enjoy dancing with the president of Israel.” When I took hold of President Rivlin’s hand, he echoed that sentiment and said, “Come dance with the president of Israel. The president of the USA doesn’t dance with the Torah.” I was about to respond, “Maybe the next U.S. president will dance with me,” but I immediately suppressed that remark, realizing that I would be halachically precluded from dancing with the current Democratic front-runner.
There were many other highlights of the festival season for me. They included delicious meals prepared by Chavi, in which we were joined by friends, grandsons, and distinguished guests, such as Chief Rabbi David Lau and his family. We also enjoyed the company of friends old and new at the Jerusalem Gardens hotel. They included Rabbi Nosson Kamenetsky (author of the well-known Making of a Gadol) and his wife, and Rabbi Yehuda Silver and his wife, Gail (who are cousins of our dear mechutanim, Yosef and Edie Davis). For theleil Simchas Torah meal, we were the guests of OU Chairman of the Board, Tzvi Friedman. And at other occasions, we reunited with old friends, such as Rabbi Marvin and Malkie Hier, and Dr. Mort and Rosalie Rapoport.
I confess that I most enjoyed the opportunity to deliver a wide variety of lectures and shiurim that I gave between Shabbos Shuva and Sukkos. They included a Shabbos Shuva derasha and a derasha to members of the RCA, both held at the OU Israel Center; shiurim on the second perek of MasechesSukkah; a lecture on the personality and thoughts on Sukkos of R’ Zadok HaCohen of Lublin; a presentation on the subject of our communities priorities, “inreach” versus outreach; and a very well attended and well received lecture entitled “Koheleth: What Would he Say About Contemporary Jewish Problems?”
Immediately following the chagim, I had the chance to pay a shiva call upon Rabbi Yehudah and Rebbetzin Chana Henkin in their home in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. They are the parents of the murdered Rabbi Eitam Henkin and in-laws of Naama. I had met Rabbi Yehuda several times over the years and am very familiar with his writings and teachings. I have worked very closely with Rebbetzin Chana, who is the dynamic founder of Nishmat and the inspiring teacher of that most admirable group of women whom she trains to become Yo’atzot Halachah. Seeing them sitting bereft upon mourners’ chairs was quite an emotional experience. Rebbetzin Chana recognized me by name as soon as I entered the room and motioned to me to visit Rabbi Yehuda first (as he was seated in another section of the apartment).
I did not visit the Henkins alone, but as part of an Orthodox Union delegation led by Executive Vice President Allen Fagin, OU Israel Director-General Rabbi Avi Berman, and Mr. Norman Schmutter, a good friend with whom I have worked on OU activities. I introduced myself to Rabbi Yehuda as representing the entire Orthodox Union and its many synagogues and that, in a sense, I was delivering condolences to him from the entire American Jewish community. I said that we all shared his pain and were saddened by the loss of his multi-talented son. I mentioned that I was familiar with several of his son’s Torah essays and thus felt that I shared in his loss.
Rabbi Yehuda responded, “If you didn’t know him personally, it is impossible for you to fully appreciate his loss.” I heartily agreed.
Our small delegation then proceeded to offer condolences, again on behalf of the Orthodox Union and its constituency, to Rebbetzin Henkin. She expressed her deep gratitude for our visit.
The Henkin’s modest apartment overflowed with menachamim, comforters, including leaders of the political left and right, prestigious rabbis and scholars, and numerous students of the murdered victims. Prominently present were the leaders of the Israeli Druze community, including the father of murdered Druze policeman Zidan Sayif (who was killed trying to rescue the victims of the Har Nof Massacre).
I know that I have gone on much longer in this newsletter than is customary, perhaps even too much longer. But I must continue and mention that the “light of our eyes” during the entire Yom Tov was the frequent presence of our two grandsons currently in Israel. Avi Weinreb, a lone soldier and a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces, was able to leave his base for some Shabbasos and part of Sukkos and had several meals with us. His cousin, Avi Friedberg, a student at the Gesher program of Aish HaTorah in the Old City of Jerusalem, joined us occasionally as well. Avi F. brought us additional nachas today as we learned of his inclusion in the Dean’s List of Yeshiva University’s Sy Sims School of Business. He finished his first year at YU before coming to Israel to advance his Torah studies.
Last night, as a demonstration of our personal commitment to remain undaunted by terror, Chavi and I walked to the Kotel, where reinforced security measures are apparent. We intend to visit the Kotel again this Shabbos.
This Shabbos, I will be delivering the English language lecture on Parshas Bereshis at Chovevei. I will be speaking on the role of language in Creation.
I close with prayers for the healing of those who have been wounded recently, for a nechama for the bereaved, and for a swift, just, and comprehensive peace for the Jewish people. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and a choref bari (gezunten vinter, healthy winter).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.